More than a game, Super Mario Run is also incriminating proof that Nintendo, who was once hyper adamant — adamant, still, though a little lax now — about bringing its roster of popular and beloved franchises over to smartphones, has accepted that the huge smartphone audience is a tappable market, and that it’d be dumb not to tap it. Nintendo has done so — and in a smart way, at that.
To test the waters, it first released not so much a game but an app called Miitomo, which stood both as a unique approach to social media and Nintendo’s first smartphone experiment. It proved very popular, but that fanfare waned quickly. Nintendo probably knew that to make a significant mark, to poke its head inches above the crowded smartphone landscape, it needed to bring someone everyone already knew: Mario.
So comes Super Mario Run. To describe it isn’t easy. It’s both a classic Mario experience and a modern, wise take on endless runners. In classic Mario entries, players control Mario left and right, up and down. His jumps, rolls, and roster of maneuvers are dependent on simple, but refined control schemes that are so integral, players know it by heart already.
On smartphones, however, Nintendo knew that there were going to be no controls. Sure, virtual buttons are one option, but that’s too finicky and complicated, while also running the risk of obstructing the space available.
The goal is to capture the largest audience as possible; to help Mario create a presence in the colossal smartphone audience. It was too risky to complicate things with annoying on-screen controls, or anything remotely similar.
The Dangers Of Being An Endless Runner
So Nintendo made Super Mario Run an endless runner, the likes of smash hit Temple Run and other subsequent reincarnations spawned from the concept. But when Nintendo first announced that Super Mario Run is an endless runner, there was doubt. In Kotaku’s review of the game, Mike Fahey eked out his initial concern:
“I expected an endless runner, a game where Mario runs from left to right through randomly-generated courses until he dies.”
Super Mario Run is not that game. Not at all.
Nintendo, one of the chief masters of the playing field, has succeeded not only making a good game, but an ensuing experience that makes Super Mario Run not annoying or trite, but a challenging endless runner.
It’s palpable how Nintendo eschewed basic Mario concepts to deliver a well-thought game meant for the smartphone audience — most likely comprised of individuals whose primary game fixes are three to five-minute bursts of simple, uncomplicated games. Nintendo knew Mario didn’t need to be complicated to capture the smartphone audience, so it didn’t make it so.
But that’s not to say it dumbed down the core Mario experience to a point of asinine pandering; It’s still a faithful Super Mario incarnation. You play as a mustachioed overalls-donning Italian plumber whose main aim is to save Princess Peach. Surprising, right? The main control scheme in Super Mario Run is tapping and holding. Mario automatically jumps over enemies and vaults over obstacles upon encounter.
As IGN notes, any solid game features smooth moves that are easy to pull off but are difficult to master. There’s plenty of space on the bottom part of the screen that visually adjusts to different levels of the game, offering an unobstructed view while camouflaging itself so as not to distract the player from the main objective.
Special Coins In ‘Super Mario Run’
Because Mario is constantly moving, precision, like mentioned before, is the little trick that’ll net you these so-called special coins. Levels are relatively easy and short, but collecting special coins is the real challenge of each. Sometimes these coins will be placed in easy-to-reach locations, other times not so much, requiring players to precisely time their jumps, or even avoid obstacles altogether just to reach them. This already makes the game a champion in terms of replayability.
With special coins, Super Mario Run becomes a completionist’s dream. That said, collecting special coins will often feel like more of a chore and less of a challenge. Each set comes with a set of five special pink coins to collect. Successfully nab them all and you unlock another set, this time purple ones, which are more difficult to obtain, of course. Complete that and you unlock a third and final set, black ones — the hardest type to reach.
Special coins may seem like a challenge, but think about this: the most zealous Super Mario fans, purists who want nothing less than a complete, unabridged Mario experience will probably be turned off by the new control schemes. Special coins seem tailor-made for them. It’s basically like Nintendo saying: “We know what you’re looking for. We haven’t lost it yet.”
Other Modes In ‘Super Mario Run’
Completing the main game is a mostly easy affair, and users would most likely see their gameplay time stretched trying to collect special coins. That said, there’s also other aspects to play around with, such as a multiplayer challenge mode called Toad Rally, in which players shadowbox other players and run through different courses, showing off special moves and maneuvers to earn Toads that’ll help with customizing the Kingdom Builder.
The Kingdom Builder isn’t a game per se, but a fun little extra. In it, users spend the coins racked up from other modes and decorate their own custom Mushroom Kingdom. The rewards are mostly insignificant, although additional characters can be unlocked if users play with it enough.
Super Mario Run’s Level Design
Super Mario Run‘s weakest point is its length. There are just six worlds in total, with four short course each. But the game is rescued by its clever level design, as expected from Nintendo, and video game legend Shigeru Miyamoto, the brainchild of Mario.
Take world 4-4 for instance, specifically the end boss battle with Boom Boom. Picture an enclosed space, with the goal to stomp on Boom Boom’s head three times to beat him.
Entering the level, it’s clear that to easily beat him, the default move is to simply stay on the sides of the platform; to just wait for him to come prancing about, then tap at the right time to tromp on his head.
But no — both ends of the platform have flamethrowers that shoot fire upward, meaning you can’t stay on either sides too long. The addition of those two flamethrowers, so dead simple when you actually give it a second thought, is the kind of simple but refined genius in Super Mario Run.
The levels are masterful, to drive the point home. Complete with seemingly arbitrary placements of obstacles and enemies that actually serve purposes of their own, either to help the player learn something, get something, make them think, or keep them off their supposed comfort zones.
Super Mario Run Verdict
Super Mario Run isn’t perfect, though. It’s rife with flaws ranging from the apparent lack of exciting new power-ups to a slim roster of characters to it’s frustrating requirement that an internet connection is needed to play, and more. But it is a Mario game through and through, endless running be damned.
Super Mario Run is available on iOS and was recently released on Android as well. It is free-to-play, with the first few levels available to try gratis. If you want to play everything it has to offer, there’s a one-time purchase of $9.99.
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